Justicar Trueheart from The Grand Tournament shaped an era of Hearthstone: it allowed players to upgrade their Hero Power to a more effective one, and shined especially in Warrior, where gaining four Armor each turn enabled fatigue as a reliable win condition, and Paladin, where creating two Silver Hand Recruits each turn enabled endless waves of minions. With Hearthstone’s upcoming The Witchwood expansion, the effect of Justicar Trueheart is coming back, this time in the form of Baku the Mooneater.
Baku the Mooneater Overview
Baku the Mooneater is a nine-mana 7/8 Neutral Beast minion. However, its body is irrelevant compared to its effect: at the start of the game, if your deck has only odd-cost cards, Baku upgrades your Hero Power. This upgrade is the same as Justicar Trueheart’s, but you do not have to draw and play Baku to activate it. As long as your deck is built to fulfill Baku’s condition, you get the upgraded Hero Power at the start of the game.
Players have had a number of questions about Baku, and we have received some clarifications from Blizzard:
- All 30 cards in your deck have to fulfill the condition (cost an odd amount of mana – 1, 3, 5 and so on) for Baku’s effect to activate.
- Zero-cost cards are considered even-cost, and do not work with Baku. Shifting Scroll is considered a zero-cost card.
- Baku only upgrades your starting Hero Power. If you change your Hero Power later – from a Death Knight card, for example – Baku will have no effect on your new Hero Power.
We have a fairly good idea of how Justicar Trueheart was used, but there is an important difference between her and Baku. Justicar changed your Hero Power as a Battlecry effect: you had to draw and play Justicar to get the upgraded Hero Power. Baku, however, upgrades your Hero Power at the start of the game.
Justicar was useless in aggressive decks, the requirement to play the card to get the effect meant that it mostly saw play in decks that were comfortable with long games. Baku, however, can also be a tool for aggressive decks, as you’re guaranteed to get the effect. If a more powerful early-game Hero Power is useful for your deck, Baku just might be able to help you out.
Building Around Baku
Baku is a build-around card, and there are multiple aspects to consider when choosing to include it in a deck.
- Is the upgraded Hero Power useful for this particular deck?
- Is the upgraded Hero Power and deck type suitable for the current meta?
- Are the deck-building sacrifices needed to get the upgrade worth it?
If you can answer all three questions with a yes, building around Baku is something you should consider.
It is worth noting that with odd-cost cards, you can fill each of your turns with cards and do not have to use the Hero Power (unless you want to). Two one-cost cards can be used on Turn two, a one-cost card and a three-cost card can be used on Turn four, and so on. You probably want to use your Hero Power a lot if you go through the trouble of upgrading it, but the nature of Baku’s requirement does not force you to do so.
We don’t have most of The Witchwood cards yet, so it is not possible to give any final answers. However, we can already start theorizing some potential options and dream of new decks to come. For a card like Baku, the examination has to take place class by class.
Baku in Druid
For Druid, Baku changes the Hero Power to Dire Shapeshift: Gain two Armor and +2 Attack this turn.
While this may not seem particularly impressive, it is good to keep in mind how Malfurion the Pestilent turned out. The Death Knight does not do anything spectacular, really, but it is one of the strongest Death Knights and sees a lot of play in Druid. Having access to more Attack and more Armor should not be underestimated. Of course, for Year of the Raven, Malfurion the Pestilent is also still available, and if you replace Baku-empowered Hero Power with Malfurion, you will not get any additional benefits for your new Hero Power.
Important Druid cards that you lose access to if you use Baku:
- Ultimate Infestation
- Grizzled Guardian
- Spreading Plague
- Astral Tiger
- Branching Paths
- Oaken Summons
- Ironwood Golem
- Wild Growth
- Power of the Wild
Well, that’s a bit of a problem, now isn’t it? You lose access to almost all the control cards that slow Druid archetypes currently use. Having the upgraded Hero Power could help a slow build wade through the early game more effectively, but it is not worth losing your actual control tools.
What about more aggressive Druid builds? You will still have Living Mana, Crypt Lord, and Savage Roar, so there are some basic tools for aggression available, but does an aggressive build need the upgraded Hero Power?
Druid seems like a questionable fit at best.
Baku in Hunter
For Hunter, Baku changes the Hero Power to Ballista Shot: Deal three damage to the enemy hero.
Now we’re talking! Hunter could not really use Justicar Trueheart, the upgraded Hero Power came in so late and the loss of tempo on the Justicar turn was not in line with the new Hero Power dealing even more face damage. Baku, however, can give Hunter more reach from the beginning of the game. Face Hunter, maybe?
Important Hunter cards that you lose access to if you use Baku:
- Kathrena Winterwisp
- Deathstalker Rexxar
- Savannah Highmane
- All Hunter Secrets
- Crackling Razormaw
- Scavenging Hyena
I’m ready to sign up! You lose access to most of the good slow Hunter cards as well as a couple of snowbally early-game cards, but if you play Face Hunter, do you really care?
Just think about these cards for a moment:
- Stitched Tracker
- Kill Command
- Eaglehorn Bow
- Animal Companion
- Unleash the Hounds
- Tundra Rhino
- King Krush
- Dire Mole
- Vicious Fledgling
- Ironbeak Owl
- Leeroy Jenkins
- Bittertide Hydra
There has got to be an aggressive Hunter deck here somewhere!
That’s not even all there is to it. As an alternative, consider the Hunter Quest, The Marsh Queen. You want to play a lot of one-drops, you say? Throw in a Tol'vir Warden, you say? You can do those things with a Baku in your deck.
Baku in Mage
For Mage, Baku changes the Hero Power to Fireblast Rank 2: Deal two damage.
Important Mage cards that you lose access to if you use Baku:
- Primordial Glyph
- Raven Familiar
- Sorcerer's Apprentice
Oh, well. Lose all of your burn? Check. Lose half of your area-of-effect damage? Check. Lose your only hard removal? Check.
Mage looks like too tough of a fit. Aggressive strategies are out of the picture with all the old burn spells gone – even if there is something new in the expansion, it can hardly make up for the losses.
Maybe there is a way to build something slower, you’ll still have Frost Lich Jaina, Flamestrike, Dragon's Fury, all Mage Secrets, and Arcane Artificer, but even there the Hero Power does not look strong enough to warrant the attempt.
I’ve played around with Midrange Elemental Mage in the current expansion, and it could help with some of the issues. Tar Creeper to defend. Servant of Kalimos for longevity. Blazecaller for direct damage. You do lose Pyros and Steam Surger though, so even that is a strong maybe.
Baku in Paladin
For Paladin, Baku changes the Hero Power to The Silver Hand: Summon two 1/1 Recruits.
Paladin is an interesting class for Baku. The reward is good, that’s a strong Hero Power to have right from the start. However, the price you have to pay is high as well.
Important Paladin cards that you lose access to if you use Baku:
- Tirion Fordring
- Spikeridged Steed
- Sunkeeper Tarim
- Crystal Lion
- Truesilver Champion
- Blessing of Kings
- Call to Arms
- Lightfused Stegodon
- Dark Conviction
- Drygulch Jailor
That is one hefty price to pay. Losing access to two of the most powerful cards in the game, Sunkeeper Tarim and Call to Arms, is a huge deal. You also lose access to a number of Silver Hand Recruit synergy cards in Crystal Lion, Lightfused Stegodon, and Drygulch Jailor. Then again, maybe you don’t need the Jailor for anything with the upgraded Hero Power.
Paladin is one of the most interesting classes for Baku. Not because it’s obviously strong, it isn’t, but because Paladin gains a big reward for a big cost, and whether those two can be balanced together is an intriguing challenge.
Baku is not a control card for Paladin, it is rather somewhere in the aggressive-midrange spectrum. Perhaps a herald of new Aggro Paladin? Perhaps a variant of Silver Hand Paladin with endless board flood? Lost in the Jungle, Level Up!, and Vinecleaver are still there. The upgraded Hero Power can flood the board a lot, perhaps it can compensate for the losses. Or perhaps it enables a pure aggro deck.
It is uncertain whether Paladin can overcome the losses, but the reward is big enough to give it a try.
Baku in Priest
For Priest, Baku changes the Hero Power to Heal: Restore four Health.
Important Priest cards that you lose access to if you use Baku:
- Mind Control
- Shadowreaper Anduin
- Cabal Shadow Priest
- Mass Dispel
- Divine Spirit
- Mind Blast
- Shadow Visions
- Shadow Word: Pain
- Spirit Lash
- Radiant Elemental
- Circle of Healing
So what kind of Priest deck can you build with Baku? It cannot be a combo Priest without Divine Spirit. It cannot be a steal Priest without Mind Control and Cabal Shadow Priest. You also lose a ton of control tools with no access to Spirit Lash, Wild Pyromancer, and Duskbreaker.
The upgraded Hero Power naturally supports either a control strategy or a board-centric minion strategy, and with the loss of some key tools for control, it looks like a minion strategy would be the way to go. Either there needs to be enough on-curve minions to build around, or maybe you can build around Lyra the Sunshard and Dragon Soul. The problem with the latter strategy is that currently you cannot tutor for Dragon Soul, and if you don’t find it early enough, the whole strategy goes down the drain. Another alternative would be to build around the Priest Quest, Awaken the Makers. A Deathrattle Priest with a powerful healing effect? Maybe.
There are a few ways Baku could work in Priest, but none of them seem obviously strong at first glance.
Baku in Rogue
For Rogue, Baku changes the Hero Power to Poisoned Dagger: Equip a 2/2 Weapon.
Important Rogue cards that you lose access to if you use Baku:
- Blade Flurry
- Elven Minstrel
- Fal'dorei Strider
- Leeching Poison
So, what is there left to win a game with? You cannot play Kingsbane without buffs, and it renders the Hero Power meaningless anyway. You cannot go for the Spiders from Fal'dorei Strider – and you have no Gadgetzan Auctioneer either, anyway. The Caverns Below without Youthful Brewmaster and Vanish? You also lose all of your high-tempo zero-cost spells.
Some tools still remain. There’s still Valeera the Hollow, if some new synergy cards will be part of the new set. There’s still Sprint as an alternative for card draw, even though it is not as good without Preparation. There’s still Vilespine Slayer for hard removal.
Would it be possible to build some kind of Tempo Rogue or Aggro Rogue deck with Baku? Think Fire Fly, Tar Creeper, maybe even Blazecaller. No Prince Keleseth though. It doesn’t have to be based on Elementals either, even though the mana costs of many Elementals line up nicely for the purpose.
Baku in Shaman
For Shaman, Baku changes the Hero Power to Totemic Slam: Summon a Totem of your choice. (From the four basic totems)
Justicar was not worth the effort for Shaman, but having access to totems of your choice from the beginning of the game sounds very interesting. How many times have you had a chance to win if only you could roll Wrath of Air totem for spell damage? Or how many times have you desperately needed a Stoneclaw Totem for Taunt? With Baku in the deck, you can roll a guaranteed Taunt Totem every single turn against aggro!
Important Shaman cards that you lose access to if you use Baku:
- Al'Akir the Windlord
- Kalimos, Primal Lord
- Fire Elemental
- Grumble, Worldshaker
- Flametongue Totem
- Ancestral Spirit
- Murmuring Elemental
Shaman offers numerous possibilities for Baku. Losing Hex is the worst thing about it, but if that can be overcome, the card may see actual play in Shaman.
First, you can play Overload Control with Snowfury Giant and Lesser Sapphire Spellstone, both conveniently odd-cost cards. Upgraded Hero Power can give you spell damage and taunts to survive the early game and build your giant board. Losing Ancestral Spirit may hurt, though.
Perhaps it is just a consequence of the sad state of Shaman in the game right now that it does not seem to lose much from including Baku in the deck. Getting to pick your Totem is an underappreciated ability, and I see Shaman as the dark horse for a Baku deck.
Baku in Warlock
For Warlock, Baku changes the Hero Power to Soul Trap: Draw a card. (Does not deal damage to you)
Important Warlock cards that you lose access to if you use Baku:
- Bloodreaver Gul'dan
- Twisting Nether
- Siphon Soul
- Rin, the First Disciple
- Lesser Amethyst Spellstone
- Vulgar Homunculus
Well, I guess that rules out any kind of Control Warlock, that’s pretty much the list of main control tools Warlock uses.
Furthermore, there is a fundamental issue with Baku in Warlock: the improved Hero Power just isn’t that much better than the regular Hero Power! Most of the time, the damage you take while drawing cards is not going to kill you, anyway. If you play a fast deck, you want to kill your opponent before that ever becomes an issue. If you play a slow deck, you include healing to compensate. Removing the damage component of the Hero Power is not giving you tempo or value, only some health, which most of the time matters little if at all.
You can build a Zoo deck with Baku, but why would you want to? You only lose a few cards, but gain very little in return, so even that does not seem to be worth it.
Baku in Warrior
For Warrior, Baku changes the Hero Power to Tank Up!: Gain four Armor.
Important Warrior cards that you lose access to if you use Baku:
- Scourgelord Garrosh
- Geosculptor Yip
- Grommash Hellscream
- Gather Your Party
- Unidentified Shield
- Gemstudded Golem
- Blood Razor
- Battle Rage
- Bring It On!
- Dead Man's Hand
- Drywhisker Armorer
Justicar Trueheart and Tank Up! were the key to the success of Control Warrior back in the day, can those days come again?
At least the Warrior archetype that is interested in Baku is clear. Gaining more Armor is not useful for an aggro deck. Recruit Warrior cannot function without any Recruit cards. We’re looking at a Control Warrior at least, if not outright Fatigue Warrior.
You also lose a lot of ways to gain Armor, but Tank Up! should ideally make up for it. But can it, really? A full board gives 14 Armor from Drywhisker Armorer, that is seven turns of Tank Up! over the regular Warrior Hero Power. Of course, you cannot always use Drywhisker Armorer that effectively, but still, you need to hit that Armor button a lot to get enough gains to make up for the big Armor swings otherwise available to Warrior. The main advantage from Tank Up! is that it works well with Reckless Flurry: you lose all of your Armor when you play Reckless Flurry, so having steady Armor gain is better with that card than having big individual Armor swings.
Perhaps Baku can even pave the way for Taunt Warrior with Fire Plume's Heart: helping the Warrior survive long enough to get that Ragnaros Hero Power online. You still have the most important Taunt minions with Baku – Stonehill Defender and Direhorn Hatchling – so maybe there is something to it. Ragnaros Hero Power just hasn’t been all that great in recent meta.
The Best Classes for Baku
Based on the discussion above, here are my predictions for the best classes to use Baku in. Obviously, The Witchwood cards will change things a lot, but here’s what we have so far:
- Hunter: Face Hunter, Quest Hunter, there is some real potential here.
- Shaman: The ability to choose your totem can be much stronger than it is usually given credit for.
- Warrior: Armor is good, but the price is high.
- Paladin: Lots of Silver Hand Recruits can really ruin the opponent’s day, but again, the price is high.
- Priest: Powerful healing effect to control the board, but do minions to use with it exist?
- Mage: Perhaps there is a Midrange (Elemental?) build out there somewhere.
- Rogue: The return of Tempo Rogue or Aggro Rogue?
- Druid: Some support for aggression, but not much.
- Warlock: Removing the damage from Warlock Hero Power just does not matter much.
Overall, I’m not sure whether Baku will be strong enough to see play. That said, it has a number of interesting synergies and there are lots of things to experiment with it – and that’s half of the fun in card games, anyway!
Unlike Justicar Trueheart, Baku seems best suited to support aggressive or midrange decks, where the Hero Power can be put to good use immediately. Shaman and Warrior may prove to be exceptions, but whether a control deck can sacrifice all even-cost cards is unclear.
What do you think? Will Baku see play? What are the classes and archetypes where it could work?